Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Things I've Learned from Women Who've Dumped Me, edited by Ben Karlin

Even after a lifetime of learning experiences, you will never understand the first thing about women. Do not delude yourself about this. Guys who claim to understand everything about women are like Kansas school boards that claim to understand everything about the creation of the world--interesting from a sociological perspective maybe, but still, totally full of shit.
- from "Things More Majestic and Terrible Than You Could Ever Imagine" by Todd Hanson

If guys are never going to understand women, then why read a book such as this--written by guys about women. Well, if there is any truth to the adage that you learn from your mistakes, it stands to reason that you may be able to learn something from the mistakes of others. And this book is essentially a litany of mistakes made by usually well-intentioned men during the course of their relationships.

An important distinction should be made here: this is by no means a self-help book. It is in no way a serious book about relationships. Books like that are full of crap (see italicized opening paragraph). So what makes this book different? Well, contributors to this anthology include, Nick Hornby, Stephen Colbert, Bob Odenkirk, Patton Oswalt, Andy Richter, A. J. Jacobs, Will Forte...are you detecting a pattern here?

The themes of many of these essays are completely anathema to the themes of books that offer relationship advice. Such as Andy Selsberg's "A Grudge Can Be Art," in which he discovers that holding a grudge for years and years may very well be the best way to deal with some failed relationships. Some of the essays simply allow you to commiserate with their authors, such as Will Forte's "Beware of Math Tutors Who Ride Motorcycles," in which a college-aged Forte loses his girlfriend to a (you guessed it) motorcycle-riding math tutor, during finals week no less. You can't help but feel for the guy as he describes trying to stay up all night cramming for a history exam, constantly getting up to check the street to see if the tutor's motorcycle has returned to its spot. (In a cruel twist, the tutor lived right across the street from Will.) In "I Still Like Jessica," Rodney Rothman, a former head writer for The Late Show with David Letterman and Undeclared, finds out that the first girl to dump him doesn't even remember going out with him, much less kissing him. Talk about soul-crushing.

While most of these essays are of the standard humorous memoir style (think David Sedaris or Paul Feig) others are transcripts from phone conversations, reprintings of love letters with commentary, lists of mistakes made, and side-by-side comparisons of relationships. One of my favorites was "You Can Encapsulate Feelings of Regret, Panic, and Desperation in a Two-and-a-Half-Minute Pop Song" by Adam Schlesinger. Schlesinger is the bassist for Fountains of Wayne. In this essay, he breaks down "Baby I've Changed," a song he wrote for the Fountains of Wayne album Out of State Plates. The lyrics to the song are on one page, while the adjacent page contains detailed footnotes that provide definitions and further insight into the song's lyrics. One of my favorites:
"And I won't tell you that your hair looks gray8...
...8. When in a relationship, it is important to phrase physical observations about your partner in a positive manner. Instead of pointing out that some of her hair is gray, for example, our protagonist could have complimented her on the fact that most of her hair is not gray."

Bottom line: the book is funny. The contributors are professional comedians and humorists, many of them accomplished comedic writers. Read this book for a good laugh, and who just might learn something while you're at it.


Nihil Novum said...

I learned that it's "you're" not "your," dill face.

Carlton said...

...oh yeah, thanks for the correction.